The natural resources company, which was founded in 2016, has developed a patented ion-exchange extraction technology that produces purified lithium concentrate from the light metal that occurs naturally within the province’s oilfield brines. The company’s goal is to produce battery-grade lithium hydroxide that can be used in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries — the same type of batteries that power the electric cars made by Musk’s company, Tesla Inc.
“It wasn’t because of Tesla, but it was because of what Tesla did,” E3’s president and CEO Chris Doornbos said, on the inspiration for his company’s technology. “They took a concept, which was an electric vehicle, and turned it into something that could be a mainstream vehicle . . . and therein lies an opportunity.”
It’s long been known that Alberta’s historic oil and gas-producing Leduc Reservoir is rich in lithium deposits, but the exponential growth in worldwide demand for the light metal is a recent phenomenon. That growth is driven in part by cellphone batteries, but it’s the rise of the electric vehicle that’s really driving renewed interest in Alberta’s as-yet-untapped lithium potential.
While electric cars are still relatively rare in Alberta, they have already made major inroads in Europe, California and China — and the growth is only expected to accelerate as battery capabilities improve, EVs get cheaper and concerns over climate change increase. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EV sales worldwide are expected to surpass sales of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2039. The demand for lithium is forecast to overtake supply as early as 2025.
“Everyone who’s following this space believes that’s going to be the tipping point,” said Doornbos. “If Alberta really wants to be smart about looking to the future, and not just doing what we’ve always done, we need to start building this industry up.”